This much I know / Wilbur Smith / ‘Poor Cecil the lion was going downhill fast – that dentist probably did his pride a favour’
DE OTROS MUNDOS
(1933 - 2021)
|Wilbur Addison Smith (so named after Wilbur Wright, the flight pioneer) was born on 9 January 1933 in Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) to British-born parents. He went to Michaelhouse in Natal, South Africa before continuing to Rhodes University where he graduated with a degree in Commerce in 1954. He was an accountant and tax assessor for the Inland Revenue for a few years before he started to write.|
|. Unfortunately, she died from a cancer-related brain tumour in December 1999. He is currently married to his fourth wife, Mokhiniso. They married in May 2000.|
|He met Mokhiniso (Niso) in a book shop in London. Niso was born in Tajikistan, a former state of the Soviet Union north of Afghanistan and trained at the Moscow University as a lawyer. They met in December 1999, when she was buying a John Grisham novel, recommended to her by her language teacher, who said that reading popular English books aloud would improve her accent. Smith told her that he knew a much more suitable author and led her to the Wilbur Smith section and signed her purchase. Niso now speaks very good English: I have the best English teacher in the world!|
|He lives on part of the original Cecil John Rhodes Estate, on the side of Table Mountain in Constantia in Cape Town, South Africa. His home is called 'Sunbird Hill'.|
|He also owns a farm, a game reserve and houses in London and the Seychelles, his favourite holiday destination.|
|Wilbur (and his late wife, Danielle, whom he considers the most beautiful woman in the world), normally travels from November to February, often spending a month skiing in Switzerland, and visiting Australia and New Zealand for deep sea fishing. During his summer break, he visits environments as diverse as Alaska and the dwindling wilderness of the African interior.|
|His favourite singer is Frank Sinatra and his favourite movie is LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.|
|At school, Wilbur was the captain of the shooting and cross-country teams.|
|At school, At Rhodes University, Wilbur was sent to hospital three times in one term because of motor-cycle crashes!|
THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE THAT INSPIRED THE fiction FICTION
I was born of British stock on January 9, 1933 in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, in Central Africa.
As an infant of eighteen months I was struck down by cerebral malaria, delirious for ten days. The doctors told my parents that it was probably better if I died, because if I survived I would be brain-damaged. Despite the primitive medical facilities available in Africa in those days, their prognosis proved correct; I survived and am now only mildly crazy. Which is good because you have to be at least slightly crazy to write fiction for a living.
I spent the first years of my life on my father's ranch, so I had as my playground 12,000 hectares (or if you prefer 25,000 acres) of forest, hills and savannah. My companions were the sons of the ranch workers, small black boys with the same interests and preoccupations as myself. Chief amongst these was avoiding the discipline and unreasonable interference of our elders. Armed with our slingshots and accompanied by a pack of mongrels we ranged at large through the bush, hunting and trapping birds and small mammals. These we scorched over a cooking fire and devoured with immense gusto. I returned home as late in the evening as I dared with my bare legs scratched and bloody from the viciously hooked 'wait-a bit' thorns, smelling strongly of wood smoke and dried sweat, and infested with bush ticks.
I was occasionally allowed to ride on the back of my father's pickup truck while he went about the business of a cattleman. Later when he had trained me not to talk too much and not to be "a bloody nuisance", I was allowed to run with the herders and bring the cattle in for branding and dipping. As I made myself more useful I was gradually allowed to spend more time with him.
I wrote a story about a young man, Sean Courtney by name, growing up on an African cattle ranch. I wrote about my own father and my darling mother. I wove into the story chunks of early African history. I wrote about black people and white. I wrote about hunting and gold mining and carousing and women. I wrote about love and loving and hating. In short I wrote about all the things I knew well and loved better. I left out all the immature philosophies and radical politics and rebellious posturing that had been the backbone of the first novel. I even came up with a catching title, 'When the Lion Feeds'.
I sent the book off to my agent in London, Ursula Winant. Afterwards I heard that she phoned the Managing Director of the eminent publishing house, William Heinemann. His name was Charles Pick. She told him:
‘Charles, I have a book which I will only let you read on three conditions. Firstly, you will give the writer an advance of a thousand pounds.’ At the time this was an unheard-of sum for a first novel.
‘Secondly, you will run a first printing of four thousand copies.’ This was a respectable number for an established author.
‘Thirdly, you will give him a 7.5 % royalty on future sales.’
He read the book over the next weekend and phoned my agent at her home on Sunday evening. He told her: ‘Ursula, I cannot agree to a single one of your three conditions. Firstly, I am going to make the advance two thousand rather than one. Secondly I am going to order a first printing of ten thousand copies. Lastly I am going to pay him royalties of 10%.’
Two days later the postman pedalled up the drive of the house which I shared in squalor with four other bachelors. I signed for the buff telegram form. I opened it, and my life changed forever.
A week later the postman pedalled up the drive with another telegram. Readers' Digest had taken my novel as one of their Condensed Books. I tipped the postman a pound.
In the following weeks the postman visited me regularly. He brought glad tidings of a sale of film rights in Hollywood, of a book society choice, of acceptance by Viking Press in New York for an eye-rolling sum of dollars, of new publishers in Germany and France, of a paperback sale to Pan Books in England. The postman and I became fast friends. He would holloa outside my door, ‘Another one, Bwana!’ When I opened the door he had his hand out for the tip.
I flew to London to meet my publisher, Charles Pick. Charles invited me to spend the weekend at his home in Lindfield under the South Downs, near Brighton. We talked from breakfast to bedtime. He was the doyen of British publishers. Nobody living knew more about books and authors than he did. Unstintingly, he shared his knowledge and wisdom with me.
While we walked on the Downs he said, ‘You have written one book. A good first step on the ladder. You still have a long way to go. It takes ten years for an author to establish himself. We will review your progress each year.’ Five years and five books later at the same spot on the Downs he told me.
‘It's five years earlier than I promised you, but you now have my permission to call yourself a writer.’
He said, ‘Write only about those things you know well.’ Since then I have written only about Africa.
He said, ‘Do not write for your publishers or for your imagined readers. Write only for yourself.’ This was something that I had learned for myself. Charles merely confirmed it for me. Now, when I sit down to write the first page of a novel, I never give a thought to who will eventually read it.
He said, ‘Don't talk about your books with anybody, even me, until they are written.’ Until it is written a book is merely smoke on the wind. It can be blown away by a careless word. I write my books while other aspiring authors are talking theirs away.
Then Satan sent in his bill, and it was a heavy one. He sent his Big Black Crab to collect. In 1993 Danielle suffered a grand mal seizure. We rushed her to hospital but the diagnosis was a malignant brain cancer, the Black Crab. It was a case of 'operate or die'.
"Who is best brain surgeon in the world?" I asked.
"Professor Mitch Berger, head of the neurosurgery unit of the University Hospital of Denver." They told me. I contacted Mitch. He was on the point of leaving for two weeks holiday. He cancelled the family holiday, packed a bag of his instruments, and boarded the next available aircraft from Denver, Colorado to Cape Town, South Africa.
He had Danielle on the operating table the day after he arrived. It took seven hours but he removed a tumour the size of a goose egg from the centre of her brain. He stayed two days to make sure she had recovered. Then I took him to the airport. On the way there I asked: ‘How much do I owe you, Mitch?’
Then 'Wilbur's Luck' returned in full force. Something happened to fill the emptiness and bring me back to life again. In a bookstore in London I met a beautiful Tadjik girl. Tajikistan, her homeland, is in Asia and borders on Afghanistan. Her name is Mokhiniso Rakhimova. She received her law degree from Moscow University. To me she is all good things; beautiful, clever, hard-working, loving and loyal. She is younger than me by 39 years. I married her in May 2000. She brought me back to life. She taught me to love again.
Now with Mokhiniso beside me I look forward eagerly to each day. She has banished loneliness. She is the perfect lover and companion. She has made me feel young and vital again. Since meeting her I have written some of my best novels. In my dedication of my books I write:
"This book is for my helpmate, playmate, soulmate, wife and best friend, Mokhiniso Rakhimova Smith."
Which about says it all.
These days I watch my diet. I quit smoking forty-five years ago, and never even touch the dread weed. I exercise regularly, drink moderately, and undergo regular medical checks. So far all of these have come up clean. I am having too much fun to want to die any time soon. I feel fit, happy, optimistic and in love. I have plenty more books in my head, clamouring to be written.
The very best days are yet to come.
|Wilbur's first attempt at writing, a novel which remains unpublished, was rejected nearly 20 times! He now keeps it in a safe place to bring himself back down to earth when he begins to believe his own publicity.|
|Wilbur soon sold several short stories to magazines and to the BBC, but one short story got out of hand . He got so caught up with the characters that he decided to expand it into a novel. Two and a half years later, he completed WHEN THE LION FEEDS. He sent it to London and within ten days - almost a record for an unknown author - he received a cable announcing its acceptance by Heinemann.|
|His first published novel, WHEN THE LION FEEDS, was originally banned in South Africa, along with his next three books, for its 'indecent, obscene and objectionable' subject content. He was under surveillance by the state security police and even his phone was tapped! He is quoted to have said: There's nothing like a good book banning to set an author on his feet!|
|He bases his many characters with physical disabilities on himself. He had polio when he was a child and his right leg is withered. His father, a sheet metal worker, was the model for many of the intimidating men in his novels. There is no need for me to plot my novels in detail. My characters sweep me along with them on a voyage over which I often have very little control. I merely follow and record their strivings and endeavors. One another occasion, he said, It is the golden egg syndrome. When you go through life with an open mind and you have a devilish imagination like I have, the ideas present themselves to you. I always think about my ideas like a hunter, I don't chase them but sit at the waterhole waiting for them to present themselves. Often a character will appear to me out of the shadows pleading: 'Please write my story'.|
|His books have sold over 80 million copies, most of them bought by women. They have been translated into 26 languages around the world.|
|Apart from English, he can also speak Afrikaans, Zulu, and some other African dialects.|
|In the US, where Wilbur's novel have been largely ignored in the past, his novels more than quadrupled in sales in 1996-1997.|
|His favourite literary character is Sean Courtney from the Courtney novels.|
|Wilbur's perception on his writing over the years: Perhaps my books are a little more polished, and my philosophy a little more refined. As to the taste of my readers, I still believe they love an engrossing story. That is what I am and will always be, a storyteller. The creative process never gets easier but the inspiration hasn't stopped. Writer's block is a dirty five-letter word and it doesn't apply to me at all. I have the great treasure house of Africa for stories. I'll never run out of subjects.|
|Wilbur's perception as an author: Sometimes I marvel that I should be paid for having so much fun!|
|Wilbur hates interviews: I think you can get to a stage where you have said everything possible there is to say.|
|Wilbur hates interviews: I think you can get to a stage where you have said everything possible there is to say.|
|On writing, he comments: It just naturally came - I had to do it. But there was a little break along the way. My Papa said, when I told him I wanted to be a journalist, 'Go and get a real job'. So I ended up as an accountant, but immediately went back to writing - it was in my blood, I think.|
|He is kind to the 50+ servants he employs at all his global residences: Anyone who has worked for us for 25 years, I buy them a house, and we educate all their children. I've got about 25 kids going to technical college.|
|Wilbur loves wild Africa: [As a boy, it] was just paradise for a small boy. There was endless fresh air all around you, endless space. Dogs, horses, guns, fishing rods, a constant supply of companions, in the form of small black boys. We'd go off into the bush, bird-nesting, and all the other horrific things like that - which I realize now, as a conservationist, how terrible they were!|
|Wilbur pursues a relatively solitary life in the bush: I feel jealous and possessive if I find car tracks less than a year old!|
|Wilbur has a ranch in the Karoo, South Africa. It is a giant conservation exercise, which, he says, is my way of saying thank you to Africa for all the good things I've had out of it. I bought a number of sheep stations, took all the sheep off and ring-fenced it - all 26 000 acres. I've introduced back all those species of African antelope which were there before the white man came.|
|Although educated at the prestigious Michaelhouse in Natal, South Africa, Wilbur doesn't look back on those days with fond memories: Times of joy and happiness were interrupted by long periods of incarceration in a boarding school, which were horrible. I was able to appreciate the freedom, after having been locked up in a boarding school.|
|I am a story-teller, says Smith. In literature, words are played like notes to play a symphony. I would never attempt to write literature. I wrote adventure stories...It's my job to entertain - to create illusion.|
|When asked how he would like to die, he replied: Unexpectedly. I don't want any warning beforehand. Let it happen when it must!|
|Wilbur drives a Toyota Land Cruiser for fun and a Rolls-Royce Silver spirit for posh. He hopes that the Rolls will last him for the rest of his life. Like an old pair of shoes, it just gets better and better the more you drive it!|
|His favourite author is C. S. Forester: He tells such a damn good story!|
|I'm an omnivorous beast, comments Wilbur on his favourite food, but I think nice young springbok steak takes a lot of beating. I'd cook it myself the way I like it - very rare with lots of garlic - and probably serve it with a side dish of pasta.|
|His biggest regret is that he hasn't one... Except, he adds, I should have bought IBM shares when they were $5 each!|
|Wilbur firmly believes in bringing back the death penalty in South Africa. No question about it - yes! And in many cases, I'd like to be the hangman!|
|His first sexual experience took place at boarding school... Under the sheets. Yes - by myself!|
|If he could have lived in any era of time he would have chosen the period in which he has lived. It's romantic to think about living in another era, but then you wouldn't have air travel, four-wheel-drive vehicles, anti-malaria pills, awareness of health and all those good things. But you must remember that I've lived at a time when a lot of the old Africa hadn't entirely gone, so I was born at just the right time. If I'd lived a little earlier I might have been killed in World War 1, and if I'd lived a little later, I might have been killed in World War 2.|
|The last time he was drunk was a long time ago. I've been merry on occasions, but I've learnt to be moderate in most things.|
|What gets him out of bed in the morning is the promise of a new day and all it has to deliver!|
|He would like his eulogy at his funeral to say: THE OLD DEVIL SPENT IT ALL!|
|Jack Nicklaus (US golfer): His books are terrific.|
|Nina Bawden (UK author): Masterly storytelling.|
|Evening Standard: Wilbur Smith writes as forcefully as his tough characters act.|
|Daily Express: The world's leading adventure writer.|
|The Washington Post: Action is the name of Wilbur Smith's game and he is the master.|
|The Sunday Times: Wilbur Smith is an adept at thrilling and harrowing scenes, researches his facts, gets it all too horribly spot-on. Terribly competent... Something between Alistair Maclean and Nicholas Monsarrat.|
|The Scotsman: Mr Smith is a natural storyteller who moves confidently and often splendidly in his period and sustains a flow of convincing incident without repeating his excitements.|
The Irish Times: A thundering good read is virtually the only way to describe Wilbur Smith's books.